Today we celebrate the third week in Advent. Each week we are presented with a particular theme to meditate upon. The first week is hope, last week was peace, this week is joy, and next week will be love.
We will find joy as we conform our life to the Jesus we remember and the Jesus who we encounter each day. We also find joy when we are transformed from a posture of turning in on our self, only looking within at our own needs, and look out to be aware of the needs of others and then move to be of help to them.
We see John leading the crowds to this place of joy today. They come to him to participate in a baptism of repentance, a changing of their heart and mind, but John also leads them deeper and outward. Not only is their heart and mind to be changed but their actions as well.
Those who have two cloaks are to share the second with one who has none and the tax collectors are to stop collecting more than what they are prescribed. Even the soldiers have come to John and he guides them: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (cf. Lk 3:10-14).
What John is presenting to the crowds is what we call today, solidarity. Pope Francis echoes John in his writings and talks. In his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and come to their aid.”
We must be willing to hear and see those who are in need around us. We must be willing, as was Moses, to follow the lead of God who hears the cry of the poor and will move us to serve in our own unique way.
We have so many models of individuals today in 2018 doing what Moses did. One person is Jean Vanier, who for fifty years has been reaching out to those with developmental disabilities. He founded L’Arche, The Ark, in 1964 which now has thirty-seven communities world wide. Jean Vanier shares that: “Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone. People with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”
Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, has been working on the US border in Texas for some thirty years helping to provide aid and support for those crossing the border. She was touched very soon after her profession as a sister when border patrol agents brought families to her convent. She recognized that Jesus called her to provide hospitality and protect those in need. She is working with city officials and border patrol to help transform minds and actions so to prevent and counter such tragic events as separation of families and children and the most recent tragic death this week of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal. “Scripture comes to life and our faith becomes flesh,” she said. “It is not until you find yourself in front of the face of the immigrant child or mother that you will understand this. It is a moment of realizing we are all one human family.”
A third shining light is Sr. Helen Prejean of the Congregation of St Joseph who has been a spiritual director to inmates of death row for decades. Her work became well known when she published her book, Dead Man Walking, in the mid nineties. Sr Helen has also been a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. “I saw the suffering and I let myself feel it… I saw the injustice and was compelled to do something about it. I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a woman with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer.”
In each example I shared in today’s reflection, Jean Vanier, Sr. Norma Pimentel and Sr. Helen Prejean encountered the person, and “sneaky Jesus” as Sr. Helen has shared, imparted his grace upon them and led them to encounter the dignity of those who were treated as though they had none. They were able to feel their plight and they heard their cry, then reached out to provide needed help and support.
As God’s grace expanded within them, they became champions and a voice for those without a voice. They embodied the definition of solidarity as defined by Pope Francis which “refers to more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mind-set that thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all, over the appropriation of goods by a few.”
John the Baptist shows us in today’s Gospel from Luke that joy is found in transformation of mind and heart that leads to action. Are we willing to allow the grace of “sneaky Jesus” to conform us such that we become people of compassion and service, that recognize the dignity of all people, and resist rationalizing or being indifferent to the plight of those who are in need? Come Lord Jesus, set our hearts on fire that we may see who you call us to be and who you call us to serve.
Photo: Sr. Helen Prejean, March 2014. (Scott Langley, courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty)